Anything Star Wars related seems to be an instant hit, especially with the more recent success of Episode VII and Rogue One in theaters. Over the years, there have been a ton of Star Wars games on practically every platform you can imagine, and iOS has had its fair share of titles. Star Wars: Force Arena is the newest entry into the Star Wars mobile gaming universe.
I typically try to avoid multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games on iOS, based solely on the fact that most of them are designed to make you spend money to reach the top tiers of the game. Despite going into Star Wars: Force Arena with some pretty negative pre-conceived notions, I managed to emerge on the other side feeling like I was one with The Force.
Before I get started, I thought I would address the elephant in the room and make the joke before you all do in the comments. Happy?
Design & Sound
I'm starting off with design and sound because there isn't much to say on the topic, and that's a good thing. The graphics are excellent, and the attention to detail of all the different units and leader is pretty astounding. You can always make out which characters are on the field even when the chaos of clashing head-to-head ensues.
As for the soundtrack, it's Star Wars! You'll hear all the songs you expect to hear, and when you're Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader in a match, that music will take you back like to the first time you saw A New Hope.
Like most MOBAs the objective of the game is very straightforward: Using a deck of six different cards — plus one leader — you spawn different units onto the battlefield in hopes of taking down your opponent's "towers" — three turrets and one shield generator. Each round lasts three minutes and whoever takes out the most towers wins, unless someone takes out the opposing shield generator, which causes them to win the match.
Very similar to other popular MOBAs — Clash Royale, anybody? — to succeed in Star Wars: Force Arena you need to build a well-balanced deck, which is a complicated and tricky ordeal in and of itself. The good news is the in-game tutorial does an excellent job of providing you a solid foundation of cards to make a balanced deck; the bad news, those starting cards will only get you so far, but that's further than you might think.
The in-game tutorial doesn't explain to you some vital keys to winning matches, including how to see the advantages and disadvantages of a given card, which is a huge part of planning your attacks and counter-attacks. In fact, if you're new to the game or just starting out, I outlined a few things you should probably know.
Taking all that into consideration, I love the 1v1 matches. They are fun, fast-paced, and exciting each time, and I have never left a match (win or lose) feeling like I didn't have a chance. The internal matchmaking system always seems to pick opponents of my relative skill, and I always felt I had the opportunity to win, even in the matches where I would get trampled by my opponent.
Reacting to your opponent's moves and knowing when to switch from an offensive style to a defensive style takes a while to learn, but once you catch on, you'll be itching to get the next match started as soon as possible.
The game features 40 different cards for each of the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, but ten of those are leaders, and another ten are unique cards, which are tied to one leader. That means only 20 other cards remain for each side to really build out your deck, and you already get six of them to start the game. This leads to the game giving you the same card over and over again, which means you can level up those cards to make them more powerful.
While I find it frustrating to only have roughly 15 cards at my disposal after a week of solid playing, I have been able to level up some of my common cards pretty high, which has allowed me to win tougher matches and progress further than I would have thought. Plus, once you reach level three, you can start trading cards.
Once every six hours, you can trade spare cards to attempt to get some rarer cards. You can trade in ten common cards to obtain a rare card (you'll also have to chip in some credits), and after a day or two, you'll realize you have plenty of common cards you wouldn't miss. You can even trade legendary cards (AKA your leader cards) to get other leaders, which is the easiest way to get 'em.
Let's talk about the money
As mentioned before, mobile MOBAs have a tendency to be pay-more-to-win-more games, and there's no doubt in my mind that Star Wars: Force Arena is the same way. You can only open card packs every few hours, and the only way to speed up that process is by using the game's premium currency called crystals. Crystals are also needed to open higher tier packs, which contain better cards. You'll most likely need to invest in those if you want to get far in the game and rank high on the world leaderboards.
That's not to say you have to spend money in Star Wars: Force Arena to enjoy the game, it's quite the opposite. The game gives you enough access to crystals that even with a week of heavy playing I have managed to acquire rarer cards, reach level seven, and become tier three all without spending a dime. Keep in mind, I have been playing this game severals hours a day, and there have been some launch week bonuses I have been able to take advantage of, so your results may vary.
The game does allow you to interact with other players in a few simple ways. At the end of every match, you can send a little speech bubble with various little sayings, like "Good Game!" and "Good Job!", or a little Star Wars emoji — my personal favorite is the "winking Lando." While I didn't think much of the feature at first, it's grown on me; I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who use them. Not too many matches go by where my opponent and I don't exchange some sort of speech bubble from them. The tiny amount of interaction is appreciated and helps to remind you you're not just playing against AI.
You can also play 2v2 matches, which I have to admit I have not enjoyed. You can choose to get paired with a random other person and play a match against two other people, however, with no way of communicating with your ally, I find it near impossible to act out any strategy. This frustration has often kept me from choosing the 2v2 matches.
You can also join a guild, which allows you to chat with other members and challenge them to friendly matches, plus, you can team up for some 2v2 matches against other guilds. I have enjoyed some of the conversations that have happened in the iMore guild room, often talks about strategy and what cards are useful or not, which, if you don't have a friend who plays the game, can be difficult to find.
My Recommendation: 👍
It's worth the free download. The gameplay is fast and furious; the graphics and soundtrack are outstanding, and I have enjoyed the social interactions I have received in the game thus far.
It's easy to paint Star Wars: Force Arena as a Clash Royale copycat, and, at first glance, I was prepared to do the same thing. But once you play the game, you'll realize Netmarble Games has thrown in several new elements — like the leader cards — that give Star Wars: Force Arena a particular edge.
Many of the drawbacks that Star Wars: Force Arena has are the same found in similar games. If you want to reach the top of the leaderboard, you'll have to spend money. And yes, you will grow annoyed at the long wait times between opening card packs. Add in a tutorial that completely forgets to mention some important aspects of how to be successful, and you can conclude that Star Wars: Force Arena is far from perfect, but very enjoyable despite any flaws.
What are your thoughts?
Let me know what you think of the game and share your opinions on Twitter or in the comments below!
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Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.